United & City – A Historical Rivalry

During the 2012 January transfer window, something rather unusual happened. Frederic Cantona Veseli, a young Swiss defender playing for Manchester City defected to Manchester United on the last day of the window.

Now, going on past history, this perhaps isn’t entirely unusual. Brian Kidd, a member of the United European Cup winning team crossed the divide indirectly after a two-year period spent at Arsenal in 1976. After coming through the youth system at United, and following several loan spells Terry Cooke moved across the city in March 1999. Renowned goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel, a member of the team that won the treble in 1999, spent short periods at Sporting Lisbon and Aston Villa before his last active year was in the colours of Manchester City during the 2002-2003 season. And, more recently and perhaps more infamously, despite United offering the player the terms he was seeking, Carlos Tevez’s advisors informed Manchester United that he no longer wished to play for the club, and he signed for their city rivals on 14 July 2009. Such moves are always fraught with tension, over reaction and downright hatred, and often spill out when the two sides meet in some of the most highly anticipated derbies in world football.

Fast forward to April 2012. Tonight sees the crunch match of the season for the first and second placed Manchester clubs with a three point gap currently separating the duo. Should City triumph then the pendulum will really swing in their favour. The build-up is fierce with so much at stake, both managers admitting the huge ramifications of anything other than victory. Add this to the already less than cordial relations between United and City and fireworks are sure to go off at the Etihad stadium.

The rivalry between the two clubs is nothing new, and dates back to an era when the Reds were known as Newton Heath. Manchester United fans like to focus on their rival’s lack of success and trophies while City fans goad their neighbours, alleging they and most other United supporters don’t even live in the city of Manchester. Their first Football League derby came in the 1894-1895 season, when Newton Heath beat Manchester City 5-2 at Hyde Road. Relations were far more at ease then; when several City players were banned from playing for the club after some under the table payments in 1906, four joined the newly named Manchester United and were welcomed as helping out another Manchester club. Before the Second World War, many football supporters in the city would regularly watch United play one week, City the next.

Such behaviour changed radically in the years after the war, with a strong rivalry building up between the two clubs. Both teams were experiencing successes and failures as the relationship began to sour in the 60s. In May of 1963, both were in a battle to avoid relegation. City were a few minutes from a win which would ensure survival when former player Denis Law intercepted a back pass and was subsequently fouled by City keeper, Harry Dowd, in the box. The resultant penalty was duly converted by Albert Quixall, ensuring both a point and survival for United. City got their revenge several seasons later in 1968, a 3-1 victory at Old Trafford ensuring a title win, 2 points ahead of Manchester United.

The rivalry deepened during the 1970s. Manchester derbies during this decade were frequently bad-tempered affairs. In December 1970, George Best’s tackle broke the leg of Glyn Pardoe, the severe nature of the injury nearly led to a decision to amputate. The following season, a 3-3 draw was mired in accusations of diving by Francis Lee and George Best. During the first derby of the 1973-74 season, Mike Doyle and Lou Macari both received red cards. Both players refused to leave the pitch and the referee was forced to send both teams back to the dressing room until the players accepted their dismissal.

Perhaps the defining moment of the long-standing rivalry was what became known as the Denis Law game. The second last game of the season for United, they needed a win to avoid relegation. Denis Law, who had since returned to City, standing with his back to the goal, received a pass from Francis Lee, backheeling the ball past Alex Stepney into the net. In the dying moments of the game, United supporters invaded the pitch, forcing the game to be abandoned. However, the score still stood and United were relegated.

After City domination during the 1980’s, including a 5-1 demolition of their neighbours, United shined throughout the 90s, unbeaten in all derbies that decade. United won the first derby following the creation of the Premier League in 1992 by 2 goals to 1. The decade also saw one of the finest derbies ever played. In 1993/94, United were 2-0 down at Maine Road, overturning the deficit to win 3-2, Eric Cantona scoring twice. City began tumbling down to the third division by 1998/99 as their rivals won the treble. The rivalry was quietened for a while as derby days became few and far between.

The first meeting of the new millennium reignited and strengthened the passionate rivalry however. Prior to the game, Roy Keane and Alf-Inge Haaland  had a long-standing feud, dating back to the days when the latter was playing for Leeds United, another team with a long-standing rivalry with United. The dispute had begun in 1998, when Keane lay on the ground with cruciate ligament injury after being through on goal, Haaland accusing him of feigning injury. Late in the game of April 2001, Keane was sent off for a high tackle on the player. In his autobiography the next year, Keane admitted the challenge had been premeditated, and received a £150,000 fine and a five match ban. The rivalry continued over the decade; in November 2002 City won their first derby over United for thirteen years and the last in Maine Road, also winning the first in the City of Manchester Stadium. City went from strength to strength, winning both games in the 2007-08 season including a 2-1 victory at Old Trafford four days after the 50th anniversary of the Munich air disaster.

The seasons following City’s injection of funds, in 2008/09, have seen several well contested games as the Citizens have been trying desperately to move out of their neighbour’s shadow. Alex Ferguson has suggested the 4-3 victory over rivals City as one of the best in their history. City had equalised three times before Michael Owen stuck in a 95th minute winner. The two met again later that season in the Cup semi-finals, former United player Carlos Tevez scoring three goals over the two legs, United eventually prevailing thanks to a stoppage time Wayne Rooney header. Last season, the second derby will always be remembered for United’s comeback win of 2-1, and in particular, a spectacular overhead kick, again scored by Rooney. With regards to this season, perhaps the bragging rights are still in City’s court, having beaten United 6-1 in the first League derby of the season, despite United prevailing over their noisy neighbours in both the Community Shield and the third round of the FA Cup.

Perhaps new signing Veseli knows the history of the two clubs he has played for, and what he is letting himself in for, joining United from City. The rivalry between the Manchester two has gone from strength to strength and, with City’s cash injection propelling them forward once more a win on Monday night may be enough to fire them towards that first Premier League title. One thing is for sure – this story is far from over.

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